Central Washington University today announced the release of head football coach Blaine Bennett from his contract. " We appreciate Blaine’s many years of service and we wish him well in his future endeavors,” said CWU Athletic Director Dennis Francois, adding that the university had chosen to move the football program in a new direction.

Long-time CWU assistant coach John Picha, a 1993 Central graduate, will replace Bennett and serve as interim head coach. CWU competes in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, NCAA Division II.

"John’s been a full-time assistant coach on both sides of the ball for the past 18 years, for five different Central head coaches. He’s also been the recruiting coordinator and overseen team travel,” Francois said. “John is experienced, student-centered, and embodies the high standards we expect of both our coaches and players. He was my first choice to lead our program and I’m pleased that he accepted.”

Picha, 47, joined the CWU football staff as a graduate assistant in 1988. A two-year performer at center for the Wildcats, in 1986 and 1987, he earned honorable mention all-league honors as a senior and was named CWU’s Best Blocker as a junior. Picha played for two years at Wenatchee Valley College, earning Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges honors as a sophomore. At CWU, Picha has also served as men’s and women’s track and field coach.

“I’m honored to be asked to lead the program and I’m excited about the challenge. We’ve got a good group of returning players and we’ve been able to add some transfer students and freshman who will help,” said Picha, who grew up in Puyallup. “The GNAC is a tough conference, but we’re going to compete very well.”


CWU has won the GNAC football title seven times in the 10-year football-playing history of the conference. Picha will lead a team that features senior linebacker Stan Langlow, from University Place, and senior offensive tackle Mike Nelson, Carnation, both of whom were named to the Beyond Sports Network Division II Pre-Season All-American Team. Langlow was last season’s GNAC Defensive Player of the Year, while Nelson was a first team all-GNAC selection for the third straight year.

CWU will open the season on Saturday, September 7, with a home game at Tomlinson Stadium against Texas A&M Kingsville. It will be the first of three straight home games to begin the season for the Wildcats.

A national search for the permanent CWU head football coach will begin this fall.